How to motivate kids to practice hard things

Quick take
What deliberate practice is, and how to encourage it.

Shallow practice is how most people study—they practice what they already know while they are only partly focused, which is not particularly effective.

Deliberate practice has four principles:

  1. Working on weaknesses
  2. Full concentration
  3. Feedback: finding out what you got right and where you made mistakes by asking a teacher or coach or checking your work
  4. Repetition until mastery

How do you motivate kids to engage in deliberate practice, which tends to be more demanding than shallow practice?

  1. Expect and be OK with failure
  2. Tolerate feeling frustrated and confused
  3. Question your beliefs about talent: An actor, an athlete, and a musician talked about how practice led them to be successful in their different life goals—and none of them mentioned talent. People mistakenly think that talent is the most important factor because they don’t see all the hours of practice that go into people’s final performances

The researchers showed adolescents anonymous quotes from other students that described their practice habits and preferences.

The researchers asked the adolescents to write a short letter to other students who didn’t know about deliberate practice to communicate the significance of what they had learned.

These brief lessons motivated adolescents to engage in deliberate practice on math problems and improved their achievement.